Reflecting on another surf where so many of those in the water seemed to lack the basics of surfing etiquette, I think it would be a good to have signs posted at all surfing beaches to remind surfers of the basics.
Looking around the internet for examples of Surf Etiquette information displays I was impressed with a page titled “Surfers Code of Conduct” on the Stoked School of Surf website where the basics are clearly explained.
Thank you to the Stoked School of Surf for giving me permission to re-post that article.
Surfer’s Code of Conduct
So you’ve done the surf lessons, bought the surfboard, know where to surf and now it’s time to get out there. Before setting foot into the ocean outside of the controlled surf lesson environment, there are a few golden rules that we encourage you to abide by to ensure a safe and enjoyable surf experience:
#1 Drive with care
Before you hit the road, make sure that your boards are tied down securely. There’s no need to speed, even if the waves are cranking. Be careful in parking lots at the beaches. Ensure there are no boards (or small children) behind your car before reversing out of your bay. If traveling through smaller coastal towns or the more rural areas of Southern Africa, drive with care.
#2 Study the surf and currents
We recommend watching the ocean for 5-10 minutes (or at least for a set or two) before paddling out, studying the currents and taking note of where the main peak is. Look out for any possible dangers like rock or reef. If it is the first time you are surfing a break, we recommend chatting to a local to ensure there’s no danger you may have missed. Most locals are happy to assist if you ask.
#3 Surf waves suited to your ability
Do not paddle out somewhere that is beyond your capability. Not only can you put yourself in danger, but you run the risk of putting fellow surfers in a dangerous position too.
#4 Paddle around the wave, not through it
Once you feel comfortable to paddle out knowing where the safest path to the backline is, be sure to paddle around the defined peak (the channel) and not through it (where people are surfing it). This makes for an easier paddle out and also won’t ruin anyone’s wave.
#5 Look both ways before taking off on a wave
Once you have waited your turn to catch a wave, make sure you look both left and right before paddling for it. The person first to their feet closest to the breaking part of the wave, has right of way. Taking off on a wave where someone is already in this position is considered ‘dropping in’ -a cardinal sin in surfing. If you do drop in, make sure you kick out immediately and ensure you apologise to the person whose wave you possibly messed up.
#6 Always stay in control of your board
Always stay in control of your board. Do not ‘bail’ (let go of) your board. It serves as a good flotation device so hold onto it tightly especially in bigger surf. If you are on a minimal or longboard which is difficult to duck dive, ‘turtle roll’ to get under the foam (and hold onto the board with all your effort). If you are ever panicked in a situation and decide to toss your board aside (which we do not recommend) and swim under a wave, never do so until you have looked behind you to make sure no one could get hurt.
#7 Paddle back out safely
When you are paddling back out after a wave, do not paddle in front of someone riding a wave (unless you are way further down the line from them). If you find yourself in a position where you think the person may ride over you, we recommend speed paddling in the direction that the surfer is coming from and not where he is going to i.e. toward the breaking part of the wave, not the open face of the wave. This is not only a safer call, but will also ensure you don’t get in the surfers way and mess up his wave.
#8 Do not be a ‘Wavehog’
If you are a longboarder or SUPer, respect the guys on shorter boards on the inside. It’s so much easier to catch waves on these boards making it tempting to catch them all. Respect the rotation system especially at point breaks. Be gracious and generous in letting other surfer’s get their fair share of waves.
#9 Help other surfers and guide those surfers with less experience
We all started somewhere. Don’t forget that.
#10 Respect the ocean and the beach
Leave only footprints. If on your way out of the water back to the car you stumble across some trash, pick it up. Every bit helps.
#11 Respect the locals
Show respect and you will get your fair share of waves.
The ocean is for everyone to enjoy in a safe and respectful manner. If we can follow this simple code of conduct, it will make for an enjoyable surfing experience.
The illustrations used in this piece are by Jenna Barbe. These are photographs of the illustrations which have been printed and laminated onto boards at Muizenberg Beach front.
The Stoked School of Surf is based in Cape Town, South Africa.